Years ago courts in our country were far different than they are today. The predominant characteristic of nineteenth-century courts across the United States was localism. By "localism" I mean that courts worked on the basis of generally accepted notions of justice and fairness within their own communities. Judges had state-wide, generally applicable laws to follow, but they did not resolve disputes by reliance on these laws alone. Rather, they took into account distinct local notions of what was fair and right in making rulings. Today our courts are monolithic centrally controlled structures. Determining what is fair and just is determined nearly exclusively by reference to state-wide generic laws. No longer do judges rely principally upon their local community for notions of justice and fairness. Anyone who has traveled in the State of Michigan today would recognize the differences between communities as divergent as Gladwin and Ferndale. Nonetheless, all conflicts are determined in the exact same way in both communities.
I am not making the nostalgia filled suggestion that the old days in court were better. These locally controlled courts were far from perfect. What I am suggesting is that the court system once offered something that our modern courts sorely miss: intimacy and connection with daily living patterns of the people they serve.
What would happen if we could rekindle the influence of local communities on how family conflicts are resolved? Every local community has a large number of people who are divorced or have parents who are divorced. These experiences impart hard earned wisdom. These people know divorce intimately, including what we can do to help people facing divorce. For example, a person who experienced divorce as a child might have a tremendous impact on how a parent facing divorce handles their divorce and their post-divorce life. Imparting these experiences to people in our local community would improve the lives of people and families facing divorce.
I am not accusing our courts of ignoring the voices of our local communities. They simply are not equipped to hear them or incorporate their ideas. In turn, our local communities tend to remain silent, at least in part because their experiences are not valued. We need to change this pattern if we hope to improve the divorce process for families in our communities.
We can best reintegrate our local communities into the discussion of how to best resolve divorce by encouraging people in our own communities to consider resolving their divorce through out-of-court methods such as mediation and collaborative practice. These methods are not saddled with generic rules and regulations and are able to integrate real world experiences into each conflict resolution process. We can also start listening to the experiences of others that have been touched by divorce in our community.
Coming this fall, I am going to begin podcasting conversations about divorce with people and professionals in our community about divorce to share their stories and experiences. I invite all of you to listen in.